The song of the week is 'Down In A Willow Garden' (a.k.a. 'Rose Connelly') in the key of G.
Down In A Willow Garden was recorded by most of the first and second generation big names in bluegrass, and has been recorded many times since then both by bluegrass and non-bluegrass artists. Well-known non-bluegrass singers who have recorded the song include The Everly Brothers, Art Garfunkel, and more recently, Billie Joe Armstrong (lead singer of the pop-punk band 'Green Day') with Norah Jones.
For those interested in the history of the song, check out
The following recordings are representative of the range of ways that first and second generation bluegrass artists played and sang Down In A Willow Garden.
Flatt & Scruggs - key of F
Reno & Harrell - key of G
Charlie Monroe - key of Ab (very sharp, almost A)
The Osborne Brothers with Red Allen - key of G
Ralph Stanley - key of G
The chord progression I use for Down In A Willow Garden is the same as the one on the Flatt & Scruggs and Osborne Brothers recordings:
1 1 1 6m
1 1 6m 6m
1 1 1 6m
1 5 1 1
6m 6m 1 6m
1 1 6m 6m
1 1 1 6m
1 5 1 1
On the Reno & Harrell recording, as well as on the Ralph Stanley recording, the 6 (Major) chord is used in place of the 6m, and on the Charlie Monroe recording, there are some spots where a chord change away from the 1 chord is implied by the melody, yet no clear chord change occurs on the guitar.
Sandwiching 6 Major chords between 1 chords was common in the early days of bluegrass (the original 1949 Flatt & Scruggs recording of Foggy Mountain Breakdown is likely the most well-known example of this), but is hardly ever done in bluegrass nowadays. The nearly universal current practice is to use 6m chords (or in some cases where it will work, 4 chords) in such spots.
Nearly all chord progressions one is likely to encounter for 'Down In A Willow Garden' at bluegrass jams that differ from the one I have written out here involve the use of the 4 chord in place of one or more of the 6m measures. The most common spots for the 4 to be used are in the last measure of the 3rd line of the verse and the chorus, and in the first two measures of the chorus.
Here is an example of the 4 being used in all of these spots, and also in the 4th measure of the 1st line of the chorus:
The Lonesome River Band - key of B
Here is a version with even more 4 chord measures in it (and one that begins in 3/4 time, switches to cut common time for most of the song. but then ends in 3/4 time):
Monroe Crossing - key of B
The reason why the 6m, 6(M), and 4 chords all work for the measures that I use the 6m in is because the main melody note (in most cases, the only melody note) in those measures is the 6th note of the Major Scale, and all three of those chords contain that note. In the key of G, that note is an E note, and the E note is part of the Em, E, and C chords. Furthermore, the E note forms a dissonance with only one of the notes of the G chord (the D note), and only a mild dissonance at that. This helps to account for the fewer number of changes away from the 1 chord in the Charlie Monroe version.
6m or 4?
If one sticks mostly to playing E and G notes in one's breaks (or backup on instruments that allow for this) on the 'Em' measures, and makes it a point to avoid B notes, then one need not be too concerned whether a C chord is being played in place of an Em in some of those measures.
Down In A Willow Garden is most often sung solo, but some of the recorded versions included or mentioned here are sung with harmony either on all the vocal parts of the song (e.g., Osborne Brothers), or only on the choruses (e.g., Reno & Harrell).
Although on most of the recordings provided here, breaks are played only over the verse progression and melody, I find it tends to work better when I lead the song at a jam to have the breaks alternate between the verse and chorus progressions when two or more breaks are played back to back. In this respect, the arrangement we will use for the song as it goes through its song of the week cycle is similar to how we almost always play Columbus Stockade Blues at the jam, except that I will usually end the song, not with a vocal chorus, but with two 'everybody' breaks played back to back: the first over the verse progression, and the second over the chorus progression.
The only essential differences between the melodies for the two parts occur in the first two measures of the parts, and once one gets past the first two measures of the chorus, the progression for the chorus is identical with the progression for the verse. So, for a chorus break, all one needs to do is to alter the first two measures of one's verse break to make it fit the chorus progression and melody.
By dropping the melody an octave lower than written in the melody sheets, guitar players can confine the melody to the 4 lowest strings of the guitar, which is ideal for creating Carter-style breaks for the song like the ones played by Charlie Monroe on the recording. The very lowest note of the melody as written (a D note: open 4th string on the guitar) cannot be dropped an octave lower when the guitar is in standard tuning. In place of the low D note in the pickup measure for the verse, and in the 8th measure of the chorus, substituting an E note (open 6th string) will work, and in place of the low D note in the 2nd measure of the last line of the verse and of the chorus, playing an A note (open 5th string) is one easy option.
The melody of the Down In A Willow Garden is Major Pentatonic, which means that it uses only the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th notes of the Major Scale. In the key of G, those notes are G, A, B, D, and E. The melody has an unusually wide range for bluegrass: wider even than (though only by a half-step) the range for the melody of Wildwood Flower. The melody for Down In A Willow Garden spans the same range as the melody for Fireball Mail. In order, from lowest to highest, the notes for both tunes when played in the key of G are: D, E, G, A, B, D, E, G.
The song of the week is 'Little Willie' in the key of A.
Ralph Stanley - key of B
John Reischman & The Jaybirds (vocal: Trisha Gagnon) - key of C - here -
The melody sheets attached here are based upon how Ralph Stanley sang the song on an earlier recording by the Stanley Brothers. On this recording, which was available on youtube for a brief while in the recent past, but is not currently available there, Ralph sang it in the key of A (a whole step lower than B), and this is the recording that I learned to sing the song from. (I have it only on an old grainy cassette tape.)
The chord progression for Little Willie is:
1 1 b7 b7
1 5 1 1
1 1 b7 b7
1 5 1 1
The b7 Chord
The b7 (flat-seven) chord is always one whole step (= two half steps) lower than the 1 chord.
If you know the 7 letter circular musical alphabet, and know that there is a note between every natural note except between B and C and between E and F, and know what is meant by a whole step (or by two half steps) and what is meant by flat (b) and sharp (#) and natural, then you have all the information you need to know in order to very quickly calculate what the b7 chord is for every key (albeit perhaps not the all the information you need in order to ensure that you are always naming it correctly: e.g., G# - incorrectly named - in place of Ab - correctly named - for the key of Bb, even though G# and Ab are one and the same note/chord).
Although we only use 8 of the 12 Major keys at our jam, here is the b7 chord for all 12 Major keys:
G: b7 = F
Ab: b7 = Gb
A: b7 = G
Bb: b7 = Ab
B: b7 = A
C: b7 = Bb
C#: b7 = B (or Db: b7 = Cb)
D: b7 = C
Eb: b7 = Db
E: b7 = D
F: b7 = Eb
F#: b7 = E (or Gb: b7 = Fb)
Banjo and guitar players who regularly make use of a capo should at the very least memorize the letter name of the b7 chord for the keys of G, C, and D.
Guitar players whose guitars are set up to be capable of the level of volume needed in order to stand a chance of cutting through at a large Bluegrass jam
(medium or heavy gauge strings and high action) will find it helpful to remember that the b7 chord in the key of C is Bb, so that when they know that the song about to be played at the jam has a b7 chord in it, and is going to be played in the key of C, or D, or E, or F, they can choose a option that will not require them to play a Bb chord-shape: for this chord-shape is physically difficult to form and to make sound right on a guitar with high action and medium to heavy gauge strings.
4 vs. b7
When I am playing guitar, my F shape chords look so similar to my C shape chords that, in order to distinguish them from each other, you may find it easier to rely on your ear to hear the difference between when I am playing a b7 chord instead of a 4 chord for the keys of G, A, Bb, B, and C, than to rely on what you (may think you) are seeing on my guitar.
The b7 chord sounds distinctively different than the 4 chord (even if not as different as what the b7 sounds like relative to the 1 and the 5). To help familiarize yourself with the specific sound of the b7 chord, you may find it helpful to listen on youtube (or on any records, tapes, CDs, etc.) in your collection, songs that feature this chord in one or more of their parts back to back with songs that have only the 1,4 and 5 chords in them.
You may also find it helpful to play through the progression for Little Willie back to back with the progression for Nine Pound Hammer, for the only difference between the two progressions is that Nine Pound Hammer uses the 4 chord in the spots where Little Willie uses the b7 chord.
Besides 'Little Willie', songs that have been played at our jams that use the b7 chord include: Old Joe Clark (B-Part only, and has no 4 chord in either of its parts), Red Haired Boy (in both parts; both parts also have the 4 chord), Salt Creek (in both parts; the A-Part also has the 4 chord) Over The Waterfall (second to last measure of the A-Part; the last measure of the A-Part uses the 4 chord), Little Maggie (has no 4 chord), and Love Please Come Home (the b7 is followed by the 4).
Relation to 'Little Maggie'
Lyrical content aside, Little Willie is essentially a slower-tempo Little Maggie. (Little Maggie is a popular Bluegrass jam standard.) So, we can use it at the jam to work towards one of the goals appropriate for the present state of our jam, namely: to be able to play faster as a group. Each time that 'Little Willie' is played at the jam, we can kick it off a bit faster, until we get to the point where the speed is no longer appropriate for Little Willie. At that point, we can switch to playing 'Little Maggie', and then keep on trying to gradually push Little Maggie faster and faster each time it gets played at the jam
Little Willie shares either the same, or a very similar, chord progression with Little Maggie, depending on which version of Little Maggie one has in mind. The two melodies are close enough to each other that any melody-based break that one plays for Little Maggie would not be out of place to play as a break for Little Willie. Though, one might consider altering the first measure (together with any pickups leading into it) of one's Little Maggie break when using it for Little Willie (and perhaps also one's 9th measure), especially for one's intro break, in order for it to be clear which song your break is intended for. (The first long-held melody note in the first and third lines of the verses of Little Willie is a perfect 5th higher than the corresponding melody note in Little Maggie.)
For the sake of comparison and contrast with 'Little Willie', take a listen to the following:
Little Maggie: Ralph Stanley:
and yet faster:
Little Maggie: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
Instrumentals written by Earl Scruggs
'Shuckin' The Corn' is one of about ten or so instrumentals written by Earl Scruggs that I regard as essential listening for all Bluegrass players:
Flint Hill Special
Foggy Mountain Special
Randy Lynn Rag
Foggy Mountain Breakdown
The song of the week is 'Sally Goodin', an old-time fiddle tune that is traditionally played in the key of A.
J.D. Crowe & The New South - key of A (fiddle is featured, with short banjo and guitar breaks in the middle)
Flatt & Scruggs - key of G (banjo is featured, with 2 short fiddle breaks)
Flatt & Scruggs - key of A (fiddle is featured, with banjo and dobro breaks)
Byron Berline, John Hickman & John Moore - key of A (fiddle is featured, with extended banjo and guitar breaks in the middle)
Bill Monroe & Doc Watson - key of A (mandolin is featured, with guitar breaks and a bit of vocal)
Boone Creek - key of A (fiddle is featured, with banjo, dobro and mandolin breaks)
In the attached melody sheets, I have presented Sally Goodin as a straightforward AABB fiddle tune with short 4 measure parts like Cripple Creek, Cluck Old Hen, and Shortnin' Bread. However, most good recorded versions of Sally Goodin deviate from this form, often doubling up one or both of the parts at certain points within the arrangement; and more often than not, the tune will end with the A Part, rather than with the B Part. Furthermore, many of the variations that are commonly played for this tune do not have enough in common with the melody of either part for it to be clear which part the variation is being played for.
At last night's jam, each break, except the last, was played as AABBAABB. The last break was played as AABBAAAA. This is how I intend to structure our playing of Sally Goodin at the jam until I see that enough people at the jam are ready to start making use of some of the types of variations that do not fit easily into this form. At that point, we can try using some freer, less rigid, forms for the tune.
As there is nothing in most versions of the melody (or in many of even the most wild variations on the parts) that implies a chord change away from the 1 chord, Sally Goodin could easily be played as a one-chord song. It can also be played as a six-chord song with chord changes (including some diminished chords) occurring nearly every half measure. (The Boone Creek recording provides a good example of this in some of its sections.) But, for the purposes of our jams, the chord progression for Sally Goodin is (for both of its parts): 1 1 1 5/1.
In the attachments I have given just one of many possible versions of the basic melody of Sally Goodin (plus a typical down-the-neck Scruggs-style break for banjo players). Whether or not one chooses to make use of this version of the melody (or, in the case of Scruggs-style banjo players, the banjo break given here) I highly recommend getting solid on some version of the basic melody (or, once again for Scruggs-style banjo players, some typical Scruggs-style break) before attempting to do anything like the kinds of variations one commonly hears on recordings of the tune.
Notice that the version of the melody given here for the A Part is entirely major pentatonic, with the lowest note being the 5th note of the major scale, and the highest note being the 3rd note of the major scale. This contrasts with the melody given here for the first three measures of the B Part, which, for the most part, simply runs up and down the first six notes of the major scale. Guitar players may find that the A Part (so long as the notes are confined to the 3rd and 4th strings, as written in the guitar melody tab attached here) makes for a good economy of motion exercise for the index and ring fingers of the fretting hand.
A good next step is to work on developing one's version of the basic melody into a melody-based bluegrass break, before jumping ahead to learning variations. On fiddle, for instance, one might among other things (under the influence of good bluegrass recordings of the tune) work on droning an A note (pinky finger on the D string) along with the melody notes in the A Part that are played on the A string. Another good thing to do, on fiddle and mandolin, is to work on playing the melody for the A-Part an octave higher than written in the attachments, by going up to 3rd position: A, B, and C# notes on the E string; E and F# notes on the A string. The high-octave A Part melody forms the basis for some of the common variations on the A Part.
And, of course, don't neglect to make sure that you can smoothly get into your break from an 8 Potato Intro and that you can go into a double ending after your break when you are ready to end the tune. On fiddle, an excellent choice of notes for an 8 Potato intro for Sally Goodin are the A note on the D string (pinky finger) played together as a double stop with the C# note on the A string (middle finger). This sets one up perfectly for playing the A Part with an A note drone on the D string as described previously.
While Scruggs-style banjo players who already have a certain amount of experience playing up the neck breaks will probably want to have an up the neck break worked up for Sally Goodin along the lines of the more common ones heard on the recordings, I advise banjo players to give a lower priority to this, and a higher priority to working on getting their backup playing for Sally Goodin as solid as possible. The drony character of Scruggs-style rolls and licks make the banjo ideally suited to being a primary backup instrument for fiddle on tunes that have no (or only occasional) explicit chord changes. The recordings provided here demonstrate this quite well. Notice that both the J.D. Crowe & The New South and the Boone Creek recordings start with fiddle breaks in which the banjo is the sole backup instrument, and even after the rest of the band comes in, the banjo remains prominent in the mix.
The first recorded version of Sally Goodin (Eck Robertson, 1922) was an old-time solo fiddle arrangement that included many variations, and some of these variations deviated quite significantly from the version of the basic melody established at the beginning of the arrangement. The influence of these variations is evident in the fiddle breaks played by Ricky Skaggs on the J.D. Crowe & The New South and the Boone Creek recordings of Sally Goodin, and in the fiddle breaks played by Byron Berline on the live performance provided in the recordings section.
Eck Robertson - key of A
Here's the original Flatt & Scruggs recording of Flint Hill Special:
The song of the week is 'In The Sweet By And By' in the key of G.
Sacred songs, in many cases taken directly from old Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian hymnals, occupy a prominent place in the Bluegrass music tradition. They make up one of the largest single categories of songs in the genre.
It is common for Bluegrass bands at all levels (ranging all the way from hobby bands to top-notch professional touring bands) to record entire albums consisting of nothing but sacred songs, and many of the biggest names in Bluegrass have recorded several of these. There are even some Bluegrass bands that specialize in 'Bluegrass Gospel' to the total, or almost total, exclusion of other categories of songs. (The very first hobby Bluegrass band that I was part of when I was in my early teens was one of those types of bands.) Most of the bands that I played with during my teen years, in doing the Summer Bluegrass festival circuit in BC, needed to have at least 45 minutes worth of this type of material in their repertoire, so that they would be able to play a Bluegrass Gospel set when scheduled to perform on a Sunday morning at a festival.
Many of the first-generation Bluegrass pioneers learned the fundamentals of music, including how to sing, in church. It was therefore quite natural that they would adapt some of the songs they knew from church to the new genre of music they were creating.
I associate 'In The Sweet By And By' with weekend afternoon jams with friends, late night jams around campfires at Bluegrass festivals, and impromptu live performances much more so than with any particular studio recording of the song by a well-known Bluegrass artist. For that reason, the first youtube link I present below is that of such an impromptu live performance of the song.
Slope Valley and Palmetto Blue: Key of G:
Notice that on the last 2 choruses the lead singer drops down to the baritone harmony part. This part is quite audible and straightforward (no unusual note choices) and therefore a good place to learn the baritone harmony from.
I have also included in the attachments ('03 Track 3') a recording (from 2006) of 'In The Sweet By And By' (key of D) that I played banjo on, in which the band consisted of people that I used to jam with at Bluegrass festivals. In accord with the wishes of the leader of the band 'String Lizzy' (who kicks off the song on the mandolin at a somewhat faster tempo than what the song is customarily played at - but the tempo choice is well-suited to her straightforward playing and singing style - and sings lead on the song, and mostly in German), we recorded the album by standing in a circle around a few mics in the middle of the circle, to make it feel as much like a jam as what is possible in a recording studio session. Many of the songs that ended up on the album were done in just one take.
Notice the similarities in the vocal arrangement on the first youtube link with the following non-bluegrass arrangement ('call and response' arrangement for the chorus, for instance) that is along the lines of the type of church singing that most of the first-generation Bluegrass artists were familiar with from their childhood:
Primitive Baptist accapella arrangement:
In addition to my own handwritten melody sheets for the song in the attachments, here is a link to sheet music from a hymnal that shows three harmony parts together with the melody. The melody is the higher of the pairs of notes that are on the top staff (written with the treble clef); what we call the baritone harmony in Bluegrass is the lower of the pairs of notes on that staff. (If you have a really high voice for Bluegrass, you may raise each of these lower notes an octave higher to create what is called the 'high baritone' part.) The higher part on the bottom staff (written with the bass clef) is what we call the tenor, or the low tenor in Bluegrass depending on whether one sings it in the octave that makes it higher or lower than the melody; and the lower part on that same staff is the bass harmony part. If you are not familiar with reading music written with the bass clef, move each note the equivalent of one line/space higher on the staff so that it can be read as if written with the treble clef, and then, if desired, drop each note an octave lower.
Right click on the sheet music at the top left corner of the page to enlarge and to be able to scroll down:
Although we will only play breaks over the verse progression, I have written out both the verse and the chorus melodies in the attachments. The song has such a strong melody and I find it quite satisfying to play as an instrumental banjo, mandolin, or guitar tune in which my playing stays very close to the melody, embellished by little more than slides and hammer-ons into the most important melody notes, rolls ( on banjo) or crosspicking (on guitar) around the melody, or double stops (on mandolin and guitar) to harmonize certain parts of the melody. I thought that perhaps some of you would like to have the chorus melody included on the melody sheets for the same reason.
Finally, here is a good professional bluegrass studio recording of 'In The Sweet By And By':
Bluegrass Martins: key of C